The Birth of Obsession

imageOver the last couple of weeks, my youngest has discovered what it is to fall in love. Until recently, the only thing he was obsessed by was Mummy, but what started as merely a keen interest in trains has developed into full blown infatuation with all things Thomas the Tank Engine. This process has happened so quickly that I feel like I am looking at a different child all of a sudden, one with a very developed sense of what he wants and how he is going to get it. And what he wants is Thomas.

Baby T has always been strong-minded. However, until he developed this obsession, he was fairly easy to steer and his anger at being deprived of a particular thing was short lived, as long as you waved a shiny object in front of him as a distraction. This has now definitely changed. Screw the shiny object. If it ain’t Thomas, it sure as hell isn’t going to cut the mustard.

I’m pretty sure most parents have experienced toddler obsession. My eldest was into cars in a big way and the second was never without her much loved bear. For T it is the little smiley trains, accompanied by the soothing tones of Ringo Starr (and later soundalikes).

T carries small trains around all day – one in each chubby mitt. He brings me the remote control, points at the TV and says “choo choo”. We have a train track permanently set up in one room and if I dare to suggest a pause in play, or even that he put the trains down while I put his arms into his sleeves, all hell breaks loose. Obsession well and truly established.

It can be difficult to manage toddler obsession – the tantrums are definitely building because of it – but it is also fascinating to watch. It is a first love, unadulterated by the restraints adults impose upon their emotions, and it is all consuming.

For parents, it is a first realisation that their little bundle has learnt to have intense feelings for something beyond his family. It is a huge milestone and the very beginning of moving a tiny, wee step into independent thoughts, desires, loves and hates.

I’m certainly not adverse to a bit of obsessive behaviour myself, even as an adult. I dare say most of us have at some time been consumed by a love for something or someone that has bordered on obsession. There is a reason why people liken love to madness: it can spill over into infatuation and fill your head and heart. Watching this obsession grow in it’s pure state for the very first time in a toddler really makes you realise how strong it is, and how far we have to come as we grow up, in order to function as adults without spinning off into a screaming rage every five minutes.

As we grow, we work out how to keep this incredible passion in check – but T is a very long way away from that right now. I don’t see many signs of it in his behaviour yet, but I know that tiny changes in his brain are happening all the time, as his understanding grows and he learns to control his emotions. One day, hopefully soon, he will understand that it is OK to put a train down for a brief moment while you get your coat on. Eventually, it will be OK to leave the trains while we go out. And one day, he will be able to put whatever his latest obsession is to one side in order to concentrate on something else for a while.

For now, there is nothing in the world but Thomas and Mummy, with a bit of space left for Daddy and his siblings. There is simply nothing better than sitting in the crook of Mummy’s arm and watching Thomas on a loop. He becomes totally absorbed by chugging trains telling stories he doesn’t understand, and the look on his face is adorable. It seems sad in a way that this intensity of feeling has to be tamed, but imagine a life where we all worshiped everyday things with such ferocity.

I love that my small people feel so strongly about things. Yes, they only feel like that about Thomas or Peppa Pig at this age but one day it will be about grown-up things, people, causes. All three have strong wills and minds of their own, which they are learning to understand, train and control, so that they can achieve what they want to, without resorting to screaming.

And my job in all this? It certainly isn’t to control my kids, at least not in the long term. It is to help them work out how to control themselves, to manage their passions. This is more than a little daunting, when faced with my little bundle of rage screaming through his entire bath and bed routine because I called time on Thomas for the day. Luckily, it is something kids learn as they grow, with a little guidance. Bit by bit, every day moving a little closer.

Whilst I will try to help them learn to manage their passion, I do hope they keep it. A passionate kid doesn’t make for an easy ride, as a parent, but it can make for some kick-ass, strong, amazing young people who can do great things.

So, keep the passion, Baby T. I can handle the tantrums while you learn, and I’m pretty sure it’ll be worth the pain.



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Left Holding the Babies


My husband is away on a work trip/skiing jaunt to the States for eight days. Lucky him. So, me and the kids have been home alone since Thursday and I find myself in sole charge of three small people.

Don’t get me wrong. I am always ‘in charge’, even though it may not always appear that way from the outside. As any parent of multiple kids knows, there must never be any doubt about who rules the roost. Like hyenas, they’d devour you in the blink of an eye if you let you slip even for a moment that you are handing over the reins to the pack. Even in chilled-out, fun, holiday Mummy mode, The Wall is always there in the background for them to hit up against, should they decide to stage a coup and challenge for leadership.

That aside, it is always good to have backup, even if it is absent for the majority of the average working week. My backup is our breadwinner and he commutes to London most days so isn’t often around much to help with the morning or bedtime routines, but the help he does give makes a big difference to me, psychologically. I still feel a sense of relief when he gets home, even if the kids are already in bed: a blessed return to joint responsibility.

Daddy’s influence is strong wherever he is and the threat of “telling Daddy” has a huge impact on my eldest, who is still the kid most likely to fly into an emotional rage and give me trouble. And it isn’t the easily quashed kind of trouble I get from the little two. For all their preschool sulks and toddler tantrums, they are both pretty textbook and manageable. Also, crucially, their tempers are like fireworks that explode dramatically, then just as quickly dissipate. H has sticking power like no other kid I’ve ever come across. He still has the ability to ruin the entire day for everyone, if trouble escalates.

I never thought I’d use the “wait til your Father gets home” approach but it is surprisingly useful with our H. I have no idea why this tactic works as it isn’t as if their father is particularly strict but, in the eyes of my six year old lad, Daddy’s disapproval is devastating. After a tantrum, H practically begs me not to tell Dad, which I find rather embarrassing if we are out in public, and I’m sure we get looks of pity for having this domineering, possibly violent old man at home. Nothing could be further from the truth, and in some ways Daddy is more of a pushover than I am, but the possible disapproval is met with such dread by H that it can be a useful weapon to add to my arsenal, when dealing with my challenging lad.

The “telling Daddy” approach actually carries more weight when he is away as H has been charged with being on his best behaviour and helping me look after the little ones this week, and he knows Daddy gets updates from afar. And, of course, badly behaved boys don’t qualify for the inevitable post trip present from America.

(As an aside, my middle one, M, couldn’t give a flying rat’s arse about Daddy’s disapproval so this tactic has no impact on her at all. Luckily, she is a bright little button and still wants the present so she tows the line anyway).

I do miss my fella when he is away and eight days can feel like a long time when you have no company in the evenings. The first few nights are great and I enjoy having no competiton for the remote control and having no-cook TV dinners, but after a few days, I really miss having someone to discuss the highlights and trials of the day with over a glass of wine. Parenting can be a lonely business without my buddy to share it with.

However, this trip has happily co-incided with a week off work for me, using up my 2014 holiday before I lose it at the end of January. This means my usual two work days are completely mine and I have lots of fun, grown up things planned. My best mate and I may even squeeze in a decadent daytime cinema trip, something we’ve not managed together for the best part of a decade. And I’ve just come back from a lovely weekend away with my family and great friends. So I’m doing pretty well on the social front this week.

So, as weeks go, this one is shaping up pretty well. Discipline isn’t exactly the issue when I’m solo parenting. Neither is the workload and this time I have more social chatting time than you could shake a stick at. So why do I have a white panic moment just as the cab arrives and I wave my husband off?

I’m a pretty capable Mum these days (although that certainly wasn’t always the case) and I can juggle it all most of the time. I think the panic sets in every time he goes because there is always a pretty high chance that something unexpected and dramatic might happen, when you have three kids in the mix. The risk of that unknown factor striking is always there. An illness, a crisis, a minor family disaster. And then I might really be in trouble.

But we muddle on, as usual. And nothing disastrous has happened yet.

Plus, most importantly, all this solo parenting earns me a weekend off when my husband gets back, so I reckon it is worth the odd moment of panic. He may have jet lag but I dare say he’ll cope with his offspring for a weekend. And hopefully he won’t feel that same moment of panic as I kiss everyone goodbye and cheerfully skip out the door without a backward glance.

The Art of Noise

imageThere is a hell of a lot of noise in my life. With kids aged six, nearly four and 18 months, we have wannabe teenage strops from the first, near continuous babble from the second and frustrated grunts from the third. Add to that the inevitable shrieks and rows and it creates quite a cacophony.

I am a big fan of communication but I have to say, being on the receiving end of quite so much noise can be a little overwhelming at times. But I think I had it coming, to be honest.

You see, I come from a family of talkers. Communication is the stuff of family life in my book. I am baffled by naturally quiet families who don’t continuously talk over the top of each other at great speed, finishing each other’s sentences. It is how I grew up and, with my family and close friends, how I still operate. It is loud, confusing for outsiders (something we secretly like, I think) and just a happy, healthy way to be in my opinion.

But, as a parent, I now understand the difference between being one of the raucous gaggle and having all that chat directed straight at me. I have a new found sympathy for my own Mum’s poor ears when I was growing up. Like me and my siblings, my three kids are loud and very keen on the sound of their own voices. They like to talk, sing, shout, scream and moan – all at a volume ranging from just a little above an acceptable level to downright ear-piercing.

There is certainly plenty of variety in the noise though and, as the kids grow and change, so does the banter. I am currently trying to get to grips with my eldest’s stroppy, answering back – a relatively recent and rapidly increasing development. Who knew they started practicing the teenage strops so early? Pretty much anything I ask of our H is met with a groan and a heartfelt complaint of injustice. I am apparently always nagging him and being highly unfair.

When he is feeling more positive, H can talk at me solidly, usually about something crucially important like Star Wars or Batman. However, when asked how his school day was, he seems to have immediately forgotten the entire contents of the previous six hours. Like his Dad, he is already mastering that age old art of selective communication.

Now if you want a good communicator, you need look no further than my funny little girl, M. She is already a chip off the old family block and talking is entirely her thing. She said her first word at 9 months, was speaking in sentences soon after her first birthday and has never looked back. She starts talking with no clear idea what she is going to say and makes it up as she goes along. She is a conversation gap-filler, a natural natterer. And hell, when you have nothing to say, just sing to carry things along. She prides herself on making me laugh and her funny, chatty babble almost never stops. I love it, but it fills my head entirely and makes following even the most basic thought processes rather challenging. I wish her teacher the very best of luck when she starts school in September.

Currently languishing at the other end of the spectrum is Baby T. He is still a rank amateur when it comes to communicating with any sense but he is surrounded by a lot of noise and he is smart enough to know that noise and chat are what is expected of him. He is also bottom of the pile and he knows he has to punch above his weight to come close to grabbing attention from his older siblings. In order to compete, he has developed a rather nifty line in very expressive scribble. It is loud (obviously) with such an impressive range of intonation that you’d be forgiven for thinking he was making sense at times. He has also mastered the art of nodding and shaking his head vigorously at appropriate times, to be fully involved in any given conversation, regardless of the topic. But T is still a lad of few actual words.

Being a communication fan, I am increasingly frustrated by T grunting and pointing to be understood. Just grow up and learn to speak already will you?!  But I have to give him his due: he is fighting an uphill battle just trying to decipher some sense from the noise he is surrounded by every day.  When teaching your first child to read, you have all the time in the world to sit, read books, speak in very slooooow baby talk and hope they eventually understand and copy you. That has definitely not been Baby T’s experience. Sure, we read books when we can, but his daily life is filled with me and his chattering siblings half finishing sentences and talking across each other. All of this is done at high speed.

T is finding his way in this noisy world. He is doing a pretty good job and I adore his attempts to be one of the gang. It might all make little sense to him right now but a noisy house is a happy house in my book. I think that makes him pretty lucky, even if it means he has a little less one-to-one word practice than I’d like.

Whilst I can feel bombarded by the noisy demands of my three, and wish there was a volume control, it is vibrant, never dull and life affirming. Yes, it can be a bit competitive and it is hard on the ears but they are slowly learning about taking turns to be heard and they are also being encouraged to work out how to express what they think and how they feel – all pretty useful life skills.

So, hurry up and join the chattering gang please, Baby T, and give up the grunting and pointing. Think how much happier you will be when you can ask me for the remote control. I’ll still say no, but at least you will be understood at last.

The Great Baby Toy Myth

imageI have a house stuffed full of toys. Many of them are plastic, garish and noisy toys for the under twos. However, three babies in and I’ve reached the unlikely conclusion that these toys are pretty much pointless. Small babies do not play with toys. Older babies and toddlers want to play with Real Stuff and, if they are lucky enough to have access to them, toys belonging to their older siblings.

The toy market for little babies is really aimed at doting parents and grandparents, wanting to give their little one the softest snuggle toy known to man, which is all well and good. Who can resist a fluffy rabbit holding an impossibly soft blanket when a newborn arrives?  We had lots of this sort of thing, which were super cute, amazingly fluffy….. and totally ignored.

Then come the plastic monstrosities for older babies. A handful of these are pretty engaging and are played with endlessly, such as a rocket shape sorter we had. It was so well-used that I can sometimes still hear it’s manic tunes buzzing through my brain, despite the fact that it died some months back. However, most are played with briefly then left to gather dust and serve as trip hazards.

As soon as a baby is able to make progress around the room, the last thing on it’s mind is toys. There is a whole world of real – often forbidden – things to explore, after all.

Yes, what babies want is Real Stuff.  Their determination to access said Stuff can be bewildering. I am at a loss to understand the fascination in some cases but my three all obsessed about the following random items:

  • doors and stairgates
  • coasters (a really baffling one.  Seriously, what is the appeal of carting a coaster around the house endlessly?)
  • remote controls and mobile phones
  • plug switches (not helpful when hoovering)
  • TV on/off buttons (I think they probably just mess with the TV because of the interesting yelling that ensues)
  • wires (good for attempting to garrotte yourself)
  • spoons
  • wallets and handbags (good for emptying)
  • keys (good for losing)
  • staircases
  • pegs
  • tea towels
  • letterboxes

Many of these items are not exactly suitable for babies and some are downright dangerous but they neither know nor care. They just want them with an steely determination that no number of plastic, singing toys can shake.

There are, however, a few exceptions to the rule on the toy front, and they are rarely the flashing, noisy ones. If I was to look back and advise my baffled new-Mum self about what baby toys I needed in order to keep my mischievous eldest entertained, it would be these universal favourites:

  • small cars and a basic garage with whizzy ramps
  • a couple of Thomas trains and track (cheaper ones without faces just aren’t the same)
  • stacking cups (honestly, the most adored and well used toy ever) and stacking rings
  • crayons and an awful lot of paper
  • small figures (little palm-sized ones)
  • play food
  • pretend phones

Yep, I think that is about it.  And yet our house is literally full to bursting with ignored baby toys.  Baby T is almost at the age when they will be redundant and we can start getting rid of some of these bulky items but, to be honest, we could probably have dumped most of themas soon as the first Hot Wheels car entered the house.

I think it might be time for a clear-out.  Anyone need an ABC singing cow with flashing lights?


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Reluctant Nurse


I really don’t want to turn this blog into a moan-fest but I am having a particularly bad week. If truth be told, I have been hanging on by a thread.

Baby T has an ear infection and a nasty case of conjunctivitis that he has been struggling to shift for about two months, on top of a hacking cough and snotty nose he has had since October.  To say we are all worn out by it is an understatement.

I am the first to admit that I am not a natural when it comes to nursing. I hadn’t really appreciated before having kids just how much of the job is about patiently nursing various illnesses and I will admit it is not a part I enjoy.  It is true that the drowsy cuddles of a poorly baby are warm and cute – and there is something rather nice about being able to hold a usually busy toddler in a comforting cuddle for more than a brief moment.  But that is seriously all that can be said for this Florence Nightingale lark.

I seem incapable of just shrugging, accepting that this is the way of life with small kids and gritting my teeth before carrying on.  You would think I’d have learnt how to do that after three small, germ-filled babies but I apparenly haven’t.  I get highly emotional over it and go into a sort of toddler tantrum all of my own.

I veer wildly between feeling so sorry for the ill child in question that I want to bawl and getting so angry with being exhausted and housebound that I actually want to scream in the poor kid’s face.  I have never actually done that, I hasten to add, but the impulse has been strong. I am certainly more snappy and no fun to be around for the other kids, who are themselves grumpy and resentful of the boredom created by an ill household.

Since it isn’t the done thing to yell in snotty little faces, my next impulse is to run screaming out the door of our germ-filled house waving my arms in the air and shrieking at the top of my lungs, just for some relief.  Also not the done thing and, so far, another urge I have resisted.

Things I have not resisted when under quarantine are throwing small plastic items into walls, crying and punching cushions.

The worst thing about this particular bout of illness is that we have been getting next to no sleep.  T has had a fever most nights for the last week and no amount of Calpol or Nurofen seems to shift it.  So we juggle a feverish, miserable baby between us all night, taking it in turns to give him more drugs and try to comfort him.  It rarely works and he usually ends up in bed with me (with my husband banished) or sleeping with one of us on the sofa downstairs.  The exhaustion is debilitating and we both feel like we are struggling to keep normal life going.  Yesterday was particularly stressful as it was a work day for me and I felt I was failing on all fronts: as a mother and as an employee.

All these things shall pass, I know, and last night was a vast improvement, so I think we might be over the worst. The clouds of germ induced melodrama seem to be rolling away from me just a little. I just find it very hard to see beyond the next snot rag at times like these and I cope less well than I’d like. Roll on Spring and healthier times.

Right now, all I want to do is bundle my dear little Baby T up and comfort him, take away his misery and make him well. But at 4am, I can’t guarantee I won’t have a major urge to scream in his face.

Things I Will Not Miss

imageAs my youngest approaches the 18 month landmark, I am beginning to catch a glimpse of what life might be like when we no longer have a baby in our midst. And I have to honest, it looks pretty bloody good.

You may well be thinking about saying ‘don’t wish it away’ to me. Well, I’m not a big fan of that phrase. I tend to hear it from parents with slightly older children when I have a bit of a moan about being run ragged by my third, adventurous toddler. I understand the sentiment, I really do. Childhood is brief and they grow and change almost daily. There is, from a distance of even a few short years, a sense of it flying by in the blink of an eye.

That said, there are times when a day can feel like a lifetime. The early years with my first were torture (see my previous post) and, even from the distance of some years, I don’t think I will ever look back on them with misty eyed and ill-remembered joy. But let’s be honest with ourselves and admit that living with even the most placid toddler is not easy. They are tiny yobs, bent on, extreme exploration and destruction, without an ounce of common sense or self preservation. You can never have any down-time, unless they are asleep. It doesn’t make for an easy life. Besides, having been there and done it three times now, I think I’ve earned a license to look forward to when things will eventually be a little easier.

For approaching seven years, I have been tied to pushchairs, nappies, cots and highchairs. I rarely leave the house without a bag so big that is often mistaken for an overnight bag, stuffed full of everything three small people could possible need on a day out. Our house is full of large, noisy, plastic toys that sing and bleep. My shoulder is permanently covered in spit and snot.

I spend much of my day wiping my little lad’s bottom, nose, face, and hands (as well as various hand and face wipes for the older two). I wash and dry dribbled on bibs so often that I long ago gave up on putting them back in the drawer, instead hanging them on chairs and radiators, awaiting more dribble.

Yes, I know all of this is my fault for having three kids in quick succession, which is something I wouldn’t change for the world. And I have loved each of their babyhoods to varying degrees (even my H-Monster demon baby’s) but I think I can safely say enough is enough. I want rid of all that baby paraphernalia. I am officially done and more than ready to move onto the next phase. So yes, guilty as charged, I am doing a bit of that wishing it away thing.

I know it could well be another year and a half before Baby T is civilised enough to use the loo and walk without a pushchair on standby but, in the scheme of things, it is tantalisingly close. Oh, just think of the joy of no more nappies!! I could weep at the prospect.

And, crucially, we are beginning to hope that we may get a little more sleep in the near future. Having been up since 4am with a coughing baby, I wish that quite a lot today.

I love my baby boy more than I can say. I love his chubby little hand in mine and his all-consuming bear hugs. I love his fluffy hair and his round baby tummy. I love the way he walks and his baby babble. These things I will most definitely miss when he grows and changes. I am sure I will miss things very much as the years go by, when thinking back to all my little ones as babies. And that is just as it should be.

But there are many things I will not miss. I won’t miss them because, when all is said and done, they are pretty crappy aspects of parenting. Wishing away the bad isn’t the same as not cherishing the good and enjoying the moment. So, unapologetically, I admit that I’m looking forward to life beyond babies and yes, that there are many things that I will not miss one little bit.

Now, time for some of those delightful Baby T chubby cuddles.

How My Demon Baby Grew Up

imageI waved my eldest off to school on Monday. He was a bit down about it and actually burst into tears when he realised on Sunday that he’d miscounted the number of sleeps and had to go to school the very next day. He in Year 2 now so is well versed in the whole term/holiday thing but he had a serious bout of Post-Christmas Blues. I had a bit of that bitter-sweet feeling myself as I kissed him goodbye, although by then he’d shaken it off and was excited about seeing all his friends, so he ran in without a backward glance.

The house is far from quiet without him and I feel relieved to get back into some sort of routine but I do find I miss my H when he is at school. This is something pretty surprising to me, even now. You see, I was completely desperate for him to start going to school.  I literally couldn’t wait to get him out of the house. I had assumed I would hate school holidays and count down to them with a sense of dread.

To explain this, I have to give you a bit of background on our H. You see, he was a Demon Baby who turned into the sort of unbearable pre-schooler that would put anyone with any sense off having more kids (clearly, I have very little sense). I know it is pretty common for people to say one of their kids was horrendous, and it is all relative, but believe me when I say he managed to shock even the most seasoned parents. He cried a lot but it wasn’t just crying, it was ear-piercing screaming. Unlike most new babies, including his mostly happy siblings, this rarely stopped even when picked up and comforted. He just loathed being a baby and intended to make sure we were aware of this fact. From 4pm to 8pm every day this crying ramped up a gear to a never ending intense wail. Walking up and down singing Three Little Monkeys on a loop (I used to start at 30 monkeys) helped a bit, but only temporarily, and woe betide you if you stopped bouncing or singing.

H unleashed his first tantrum at just nine months old. From that point on, he lay on the floor kicking and screaming if you did anything that he wasn’t entirely keen on. I called my Health Visitor for advice – a fusty old girl who had been dealing with neurotic new Mums for decades – who dismissed it over the phone, saying he was far too young to be having tantrums.  When she came to see me and he went into a rage while she was there, she rapidly ate her words, wished me luck and scuttled out the door. That’s when I realised I was really in trouble.

By the age of three, he was throwing approximately six killer tantrums a day (yes, I counted and averaged). Each one involved either a bedroom time out or leaving wherever we happened to be. There was literally no other option as he became a screaming bundle of rage. We stopped going to anything you had to pay for as we were rarely anywhere longer than half an hour. I had well meaning advice from all quarters and I trawled books and websites for tips but nothing seemed to work. One particularly useless theory was that you give them a bedroom time out, going in every 3 minutes to ask if they want to calm down and come downstairs again. We did this one day for four hours straight. Seriously. Each time I went in, he just screamed in my face. These weren’t my happiest days, especially since I also had a baby M to look after by now.

By four, the killer tantrums were still very much in force although slightly less frequent, perhaps two or three on a good day. I hung all my hopes on school routine helping and at least giving us less time together, so I could spend some time with my little girl, without everything revolving around my screaming H-monster.

I don’t know what happened, and it certainly wasn’t overnight, but something began to change. Whether it was starting school or just H maturing I couldn’t say but one day, not so long ago, my husband and I turned to each other and realised we no longer had a demon for a son. Our H had turned into a polite, kind, gentle and sensitive little soul who I actually look forward to spending time with.

Don’t get me wrong: H is no angel and he still has his moments.  He is a glass-half-full type of fella, highly emotional and melodramatic, and still prone to the odd tantrum, even at age six.  But school holidays are not to be entirely feared.  They are noisy and full of rows but they are also a time when all the kids can be together and I can spend some time with my boy, who gets closer to being a little man every day.

H took me right to brink and I sometimes doubted I’d survive him.  But I have, and he was worth all the pain and misery in the end.

And I’m looking forward to Half Term.